Social Media Profile Photos Reflect the Real You

A team at the University of Pennsylvania, USA, has been looking at the images we upload to social media. They analysed 66,000 Twitter users’ Tweets in an attempt to match profile pictures with personality traits, and it looks like the images we choose to represent ourselves online really do reveal our personalities.

How your profile photo reveals your personality

The team examined 66,000 users’ most recent 3200 Tweets, while 434 members of the group filled in a psychological survey. Both tests scored people according to the so-called Big Five personality traits: agreeableness, extraversion, openness, neuroticism and conscientiousness.
Looking for correlations between the test results and social media profile pictures, the researchers found that some key relationships surfaced. Here they are:

  • Highly conscientious people usually express positive emotions in the profile photos they post on social media, and they tend to portray themselves alone. If you enjoy orderliness, planned behaviour and self-discipline you’ll fit into this category, and your photo will probably be beautifully framed, without a hair out of place. That seems to be me.
  • People who were identified as particularly open, who enjoy new experiences, appear to prefer artistic photos, kooky compositions and poses involving an inanimate object, for example a guitar or surfboard.
  • Neurotic people often post profile images without a visible face, potentially because they find it hard to hold back negative emotions. If your profile picture is actually of your pet, that might be you.
  • Agreeable people are the most likely to be cheerful and smiley in photos. Like extroverts their photos are frequently colourful, and often show the person laughing, interacting with others or grinning widely… but the image won’t be very good quality, often blurred
  • Extroverts also post colourful pictures full of smiling people. Their photos are the worst quality and the least aesthetically pleasing, possibly because they’re having took much fun to waste time and effort taking great snaps, or because they are confident enough in their own appeal not to make a meal of it.

Whether we realise it or not, it looks like we choose profile pictures that reflect our online persona. Does it matter? In a business context it might. While we choose the images we use for our profiles subconsciously, humans are also adept at subconsciously decoding images. If you were thinking about uploading a photo of your cat to your Twitter business account, you might want to think again!

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